MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -August is always a good time to get out of town. Even the Minnesota Gophers are getting ready to head north for a week in the woods.
This won't be a vacation at the lake cabin, though. It's time to start fall practice, and new coach Tim Brewster has decided to take his players to St. John's University for the first week. The bus leaves for Collegeville on Sunday afternoon.
``I'm really looking forward to it. It'll be something different,'' linebacker Mike Sherels said. ``Get away from the city, 35W, all the stuff surrounding the team. Get away from all that, concentrate on the team, kind of regroup, restart our goals, and start working toward them right away.''
Sherels was in a small group of Gophers coming back from the Big Ten media convention in Chicago on Wednesday afternoon. The flight was about 40 minutes late, putting them on the ground shortly after the Interstate 35W bridge collapsed over the Mississippi River just blocks from University Avenue.
``I try not to think about it, but we could've been on it,'' Sherels said.
This came two weeks after four players, including standout cornerback Dominic Jones, were removed from the roster for violating team and university codes of conduct in their alleged involvement in the rape of an 18-year-old woman. Jones was charged with third degree criminal sexual conduct.
``We all know the difference between right and wrong. We really do. I think everybody does. I'm going to keep emphasizing that point,'' Brewster said. ``But the other thing is this: It's an honor and a privilege to wear maroon and gold. And I think our football team understands very clearly that I will take that privilege away if they're not honoring wearing maroon and gold.''
With all that on their minds, plus the determination to prove wrong all the preseason predictions of a ninth-place finish, the Gophers are eager for the seclusion and serenity of the St. John's campus where John Gagliardi - who has more wins than any coach in college football history - has guided the Division III Johnnies for the past 5 1/2 decades.
Practices won't be easy. Brewster has a 6 a.m. conditioning test scheduled for Monday, and he wants his team to be physical and hard-hitting - just like every other coach in the country.
On top of his endless energy, Brewster is an admittedly impatient man who wants the Gophers to win now - despite a depth chart that suggests a dropoff from the last few seasons and a conference schedule that is more daunting than usual.
His obsession to not only improve the program but elevate it to perennial big-time bowl status has impacted just about everything related to Gopher football. That includes the weight room, where strength and conditioning coach Mark Hill was pressured to get results with his offseason workouts.
``We have worked harder than any of us have ever worked in our life,'' Sherels said.
Brewster said there were only four players who could lift more than 300 pounds on a power clean. Now, there are 39. Before and after pictures provided further evidence of progress.
``I'm going to tell you,'' Brewster said, using one of his favorite lines, ``it was mind blowing.''
Whether or not it will make any difference in the Big Ten standings, it's clear this team has rallied around the newness and optimism surrounding the program.
``I think everybody's very happy with what's happened so far,'' center Tony Brinkhaus said.

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